Day Hike T: Red Mill Road to Penny’s Bend

End of the Line (or the Beginning)

Distance: 4.2 miles

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Camping: There is an authorized camping area available on private property in this section of the Falls Lake Trail (between Red Mill Road and Old Oxford Road). Follow the blue-blazed trail off the MST approximately 1 mile west of Red Mill Road. NOTE: This campsite is on private property. It is a HUGE PRIVILEGE to be allowed to camp at this location. Vandalism, neglect or any trash left at this campsite could result in closing of this campsite by the landowner. No water or toilet facilities are provided. There are seven established campsite pads for 2-person tents. Campsite rules: (1) Practice Leave No Trace ethics. (2) Do NOT leave any trash. Pack it in = Pack it out. (3) There is a 2-night maximum stay. (4) Do NOT explore past a 75 yard radius of the Shelter. (5) NO FIRES except in the established fire pit.
  • Land managers: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Note: Some or all of this trail is on game lands and hunting is allowed. Learn about local hunting seasons here.
  • Volunteer Task Force Leader: Jeff Brewer, jdbrewer104@gmail.com.
  • Piggyback trail: No.
  • Connecting trails: No.
  • Falls Lake MST Section No.: 23.
  • Trailheads/Access: Red Mill Road and Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve off Old Oxford Highway. Click on map for detailed information.

Road crossings are a fact of life on the Falls Lake portion of the MST. Pay particular attention at this one, crossing Old Oxford Highway at Penny’s Bend.

From Red Mill hiking west the trail starts on an old roadbed, then 0.2 miles in takes a left onto singletrack. A young forest borders a meadow for a short distance before the trail immerses itself in the woods.

This section of trail exceeds the westernmost reaches of Falls Lake and parallels the Eno River, though you don’t see much of it at first. You’ll know you’re getting close, at about the mile-and-a-half mark, when you start to climb. The trail ascends to a bluff that rises about 50 feet above the Eno, offering some nice views to the north, especially in winter.

Your descent means you’re nearing Penny’s Bend and the end of the trail. But first, cross an appears-to-be-abandoned rail line, which has been the talk of a new rails-to-trails project extending to downtown Durham and the American Tobacco Trail.

The trail reaches Old Oxford Road at Mile 4.1. To get to Penny’s Bend and the end of this section, cross and go right along the shoulder and across the narrow bridge (Penny’s Bend and its gravel lot are just beyond). Be warned: there can be a fair amount of fast traffic on this narrow road, which narrows more at the bridge. Not a good place to dawdle.

A great day hike with nice variety.

Geology Highlights: In the eastern part of this section, there is a large diabase dike that crosses the trail.  In the central part, there are bluffs along the Eno River with exposures of pebbly sandstone, and in the western part, the trail runs within a flat-lying diabase sill. Between the sill and the river are more sandstone bluffs.

Day Hike T Map

Click on the link below the Google map to open it up in a larger version which includes definition of the map symbols, hiking notes, and an interactive option for driving to the trailheads.


View MST / Falls Lake / Day Hike T in a larger mapDisclaimer

Finding Your Way

Thanks to Mark Edelstein for these detailed hiking directions.

Finding Your Way (east » west) Mileage
Trailhead: From a small parking area on the west side of Red Mill Rd. about 0.3 mile south of the Eno River crossing, walk past a chain barrier to start on a roadbed heading west. 0.0
The trail heads left off the roadbed onto a narrow footpath and starts to walk along a fence by a large farm field. 0.2
Veer right as the trail moves away from the field and goes through a more open forest. 0.5
Cross a small creek (may be dry). Pass under a power line. 0.9
After going through a cut in a large downed tree, head slightly left to walk through a small depression and cross an old roadbed. Quickly reach a trail junction, left. 1.3
Cross 2 small creeks on footbridges. 1.4
Cross a wide, overgrown road bed and start to walk through a more open forest, where a narrow-cut passage takes you through a large, fallen tree. 1.6
Start a small ascent to reach higher ground and begin to parallel a wide roadbed. To your right is the Eno River far below you. 1.9
The trail turns to the left and then right to follow the roadbed. Go slightly right as the trail leaves the roadbed. 2.2
Turn left, then right onto another wide roadbed. At a junction, stay straight to go through an open area. Traverse a narrow, old roadbed as the trail passes a swampy area on the right. 2.4
Head right to leave the roadbed on a narrow footpath. Cross a water run. Cross another roadbed. 2.6
Use stepping stones to cross a water run. Begin a short ascent. 3.0
The trail turns right onto a wide path and then passes a small clearing, on the right with a view of Eno River below. The path curves to the left, but the MST stays right. 3.3
After passing an old boundary marker, cross abandoned railroad tracks. Cross over a large drainage pipe as the trail turns right to run along a creek. 3.9
Reach Old Oxford Rd. The trail turns right to walk along the narrow shoulder on a short bridge over the Eno River and then left to cross the road onto Snow Hill Rd. 4.1
Trailhead: Turn left into the parking lot for Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve. 4.2